O’Quinn Law Library
Researching Federal Legislative History
This research guide is intended to provide information on locating Federal legislative history documents. This guide will provide an overview of the legislative process, legislative documents and relevant authority, and print sources where legislative history documents may be located. This guide includes information about compiled legislative histories for specific statutes as well as a list of compiled legislative histories that the O’Quinn Law Library holds in its collection. For those who need to compile their own legislative history for statutes enacted after 1970 this guide provides important steps to take in conducting such research. This guide also includes information on finding legislative documents for acts enacted prior to 1970. Finally this guide includes an overview of some of the online resources including free web sites that provide legislative history information.
LEGISLATIVE PROCESS AND DOCUMENTS CREATED
The following information provides the legislative process and the selected documents that are created at each step. Effective and efficient legislative history research requires familiarity with the legislative process since documents are created at each step.
1. Introductions of the bill in the House or the Senate
Although a bill typically originates in either the House or the Senate revenue bills are required by the U.S. Constitution to begin in the House and bills pertaining to the budget usually begin in the House as well. Legislation is introduced by a member of Congress and the bill is referred to one or more of the standing committees.
Documents Created: Introduced Bill, Opening Statement
2. Committee/Subcommittee Action
Once the bill is referred to a committee, the committee may hold a public hearing and then refer the matter to one of its subcommittees for a mark-up session for further review. A subcommittee consists of a smaller group of members from the full committee. A mark-up session will allow the subcommittee to negotiate the bill and add amendments. Once the bill passes the subcommittee it is then reported to the full committee. The full committee upon receiving the bill may decide to hold further proceedings, table the bill, defeat the bill, or report the bill to the floor of the chamber. The committee at any point in this process can add amendments to the bill before reporting it to the full chamber.
Documents Created: Hearing Transcripts, Committee Prints
3. Bill passes the committee and is reported to the floor of the chamber
If the bill passes the committee it is reported to the floor of the chamber and placed on the calendar for further action.
Documents Created: Reported Bill, Committee Report
4. Floor Action: bill debated and voted upon by the full chamber
At this point the bill will be debated by members of the chamber and, depending on the rules, certain requirements must be met before debate can end and the bill come to a vote. Often, amendments will be considered and approved. In the Senate the rules are more flexible with respect to time provided for debate. Since the House has more members the debate time is restricted considerably for each member.
Documents Created: Debate, Proceedings, Roll Call Votes (Congressional Record)
5. Bill passage and referral to the other chamber. When the bill is referred to the other chamber it will repeat steps 1-4 above
When the bill passes the chamber it is then referred to the other chamber where it will follow roughly the same process. For example, if the bill has passed the House of Representatives it then proceeds to the Senate where it will be referred to a committee. Once it passes the committee it will go to the floor of the Senate for debate and possible vote.
Document Created: Bill (Engrossed)
6. Once the bill clears both the House and the Senate it will go to the President for signature or veto if there are no differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
If the bill passes the House and Senate and there are no differences between the two versions of the bill it will proceed to the President’s desk. However, there will usually be differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill because amendments can be approved at virtually every stage of the legislative process. The differences between these two versions of the bill must be worked out before it can be signed into law by the President.
Document Created: Bill (Enrolled)
7. A Conference Committee will be convened if there are differences between the house and senate versions of the bill.
A conference committee will convene to work out any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The conference committee consists of selected members from the standing committees in the House and the Senate that considered the bill. The committee will engage in a negotiating process where the members attempt to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill which, if successful, will result in one final version of the bill. Once this final version of the bill passes the conference committee it must return to both the House and Senate for a final vote before it can go to the President for signature.
Documents Created: Conference Report
8. Floor Action: Congress will debate and vote on the final version of the bill submitted by the Conference Committee.
Congress will debate and vote upon the final version of the bill.
Documents Created: Debate, Proceedings, Roll Call Votes (Congressional Record), Bill (Enrolled)
9. Presidential Action:
Once Congress enacts the bill it will be sent to the President who may veto the bill, take no action, or sign the bill into law. If the President vetoes the bill it will go back to Congress where it will require 2/3 vote in both houses to sustain the bill. If the President takes no action the bill will become law if Congress is in session. If Congress is not in session the President’s refusal to take action will amount to a veto. This is often referred to a pocket veto.
Documents Created: Presidential Signing Statement
LEGISLATIVE DOCUMENTS AND THEIR AUTHORITY
1. Conference Report (Highly Authoritative)
The conference report is arguably the most authoritative of all legislative documents. A conference committee will be convened when there are differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill. The committee will consist of selected members from the House and Senate committees that originally considered the two versions of the bill. These members will negotiate and if such negotiations prove successful they will approve one version of a bill that will be sent back to Congress for final passage. When this happens, the committee will issue a conference report consisting of the full text of the bill, findings of the committee, and votes and names of the committee members.
2. Committee Reports (Authoritative)
When a bill passes a House or Senate committee and is reported to the floor for debate and passage the committee that considered the bill will issue a committee report. The committee report will include the full text of the bill, the findings of the committee, and the names and votes of the committee.
3. Bills (Authoritative)
There are different versions of bills that represent different stages of the legislative process.
This bill is the version first brought to the House or Senate floor by a member of Congress. The bill is often referred to at least one committee for further action.
Reported Bill by the committee or conference committee
This is the version of the bill that passes a committee and is placed on the calendar and then goes to the floor of the House or Senate for further review.
This is the version of the bill that has passed one chamber and introduced into the other chamber.
This is the version of the bill that has passed both chambers and has been sent to the president.
4. Hearing Transcripts (Some Authority)
These are produced by Congressional Information Services (CIS) when a committee considering a bill holds public hearings to investigate matters related to the bill. Transcripts are also available for subcommittee hearings or mark-up sessions. The transcripts are not considered to be very authoritative because they do not always reflect what is actually stated during the committee hearing and they often include various advocacy positions. It is important to note that there are committee hearings where there are no transcripts available.
5. House and Senate Debate and Proceedings (Some Authority)
The debate and proceedings are available in the Congressional Record. Debate is usually reported when a bill is considered on the floor of the House or the Senate. The text however will be different from what is actually spoken on the floor of the chamber, since statements can be entered into the record or even removed. The authority is not as strong as the committee reports.
6. Committee Prints (No Authority)
The Committee Prints are a compilation of various internal documents that the committee compiled together in order to assist the members in considering a particular bill. They can also help give the members a background into the subject matter of the bill. The types of information can vary from statistical data to certain drafts of bills. These are the least authoritative of legislative documents, since they do not represent the committee’s opinion as a whole.
7. Presidential Signing Statements (Uncertain Authority)
The President can provide a personal viewpoint of the legislation and its purpose in the signing statement. This statement is not really authoritative, but because the president will often write legislation that is presented to Congress the statement can offer some insight into his or her viewpoint. These are available in the Compilation of Presidential Documents.
PRINT SOURCES FOR LEGISLATIVE HISTORY RESEARCH
These contain the public acts that have passed Congress. Our collection includes acts from 1796-present.
The Public Acts passed by Congress are compiled and arranged by Subject. There are three U.S. Code Publications: The official version is the United States Code (USC); the commercial publishers produce the two annotated versions including United States Code Annotated (USCA) and the United States Code Service (USCS).
Popular Names Table
This is a single volume that is included in the United States Code Annotated and the United States Code Annotated. The Popular Names Table allows you to look for the common name of a public act, and it will list the official name of the act and the sections of the United States Code when it is codified. It will also list the public law and statutes-at-large citations for the date it was enacted, as well as any amendments.
The USCCAN, published by the Government Printing Office, provides full text of bills as well as partial and select committee reports.
The Congressional Record contains the text of the debates and the proceedings of the U.S. House and Senate, including roll call votes.
House and Senate Journals
The U.S. House and Senate are required by the U.S. Constitution to keep a journal of their activities. These contain a record of the proceedings of the House and Senate. They do not contain the debate transcripts.
USING COMPILED LEGISLATIVE HISTORIES
Compiled legislative histories make the job of researching legislative history much easier, since they organize the full text of various committee hearing transcripts, reports, floor debates, and other documents into a multi-volume set. Compiled legislative histories for specific laws are available in full text on online databases. In short, compiled legislative histories can save much time in researching legislative history.
1. Find a list of published compiled legislative histories.
Johnson, Nancy P., Sources of Compiled Legislative Histories. 1979. This is a looseleaf binder that is currently updated and provides a listing of all compiled legislative histories in publication. This is the best source for locating compiled legislative histories
Hein Online contains a list of compiled legislative histories. Students and faculty may access this through our databases page at the following link: http://www.law.uh.edu/libraries/indexes.htm
2. Take the publication citation and locate it using the online catalog.
Using a title search, limit the search to the UH Law Library and enter the name of the publication. The UH online catalog is available at the following link: http://library.uh.edu/
3. Use our interlibrary loan services to find compiled legislative histories not located in our collection.
The following link will provide information on our interlibrary loan policies: http://www.law.uh.edu/libraries/ILL.htm
STEPS FOR RESEARCHING FEDERAL LEGISLATIVE HISTORY
Researching Federal Legislative History for Statutes Enacted after 1970
1. Find the Statutes-at-Large Citation or Public Law Number for the Public Act
There are two citations that you need to look for: the Statute-at-Large citation and the Public Law Number. To find these citations use the Popular Names Table or look at the history note at the end of the United States Code section.
a. Popular Names Table
The annotated codes (the United States Code Annotated and the United States Code Service) have a single volume popular names table that will allow you to find the name of the act and the public law number. Example: The Popular Names Table will provide the Statutes-at-Large citation (116 Stat. 745) and the Public Law number (Pub. L. 107-204) for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
If you are researching the legislative history for a particular section of the United States Code simply go to that section of the code. At the end of the text of the statute there will be a short statement that will provide the Public Law Number.
2. Take the Citations to the Public Act and Locate the CIS Legislative History on the LexisNexis Congressional Database.
Go to the Law Libraries indexes and databases page and click “LexisNexis Congressional”. This will link you to the database
Example: Locate the CIS Legislative History for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001
1) Click “Legislative Histories, Bills & Laws” on the left on the screen.
2) Click “Get a Document”
3) Select “Legislative Histories” from the pull down menu
4) Enter either the Public Law Number “Pub.L. 107-110” or the Statutes-at-Large citation “115 Stat. 745” and click “Search”
5) Select “No Child Left Behind Act of 2002” from the list.
3. The CIS Legislative History will contain a listing of the different documents available for the public act. Look for the following documents:
Availability in Full Text
Reports (Committee Reports, Conference Reports)
Full Text (1990-present)
CIS Documents (Microfiche)
Full Text (1989-present)
Full Text (1985-present)
Hearings (selected hearings and witness statements)
Full Text (1988-present)
Selected Full Text (1993-2004)
Most of these are in abstract only
You can use the CIS Legislative History on LexisNexis Congressional to decide which documents you wish to locate and use the citations to obtain the documents. For statutes enacted after the early 1990’s many documents are available in full text simply by clicking the citation for the document.
4. Use the citations to find the documents that are not available in full text on LexisNexis Congressional
a. Debate (The CIS Legislative History will list the debates that took place in the House and Senate as well as the citations to the Congressional Record) The O’Quinn Law Library houses the Congressional Record in print and on microfiche.
Congressional Record Daily (KF35.A5)
Congressional Record Permanent (KF35.A5)
b. The CIS Legislative History will provide both the CIS citations and SUDOC numbers for committee hearings, committee reports, and conference report.
c. The CIS citation enables you to locate the document on microfiche in libraries that subscribe to the CIS legislative documents service. If you cannot locate the full text of a transcript to a committee hearing, committee reports, or conference report, you can take the citation and go to the microform room of the law library and retrieve the document.
d. The SUDOC (U.S. Superintendent of Documents) citation is the citation that you would use to locate the document in libraries which carry the legislative history documents distributed by the Government Printing Office (discontinued in the early 1990’s)
RESEARCHING LEGISLATIVE HISTORY FOR STATUTES ENACTED PRIOR TO 1970
Finding legislative documents for years prior to 1970 can be very difficult. You cannot rely on the CIS Legislative Histories, since they only cover legislation enacted from 1970 until today. There are various print indexes and online sources that can be helpful.
1. Sources in our Collection
The O’Quinn Law Library has access to the USCCAN volumes in print from 1941- until present. These contain the full text of the bills as well as partial and select committee reports.
2. LexisNexis Congressional Database
CIS Serial Set Index (1789-1969)
LexisNexis has begun digitizing legislative documents from 1789 to 1969 and provides access to these in PDF format. Currently the collection is incomplete but there are various documents that are available and fully searchable.
CIS Congressional Indexes (1789-1969)
This database has a listing of legislative documents, including House and Senate committee reports, committee prints, bills, and published and unpublished committee hearings indexes.
3. Finding Information from other Libraries.
Since the library’s holding of legislative history documents prior to 1970 is incomplete you may need to use interlibrary loan to find information from other libraries for older legislative documents.
FINDING LEGISLATIVE HISTORY DOCUMENTS THROUGH ONLINE DATABASES
· Congressional Record (1985-present)
Thomas is a project founded by the Library of Congress to provide the public free access to legislative documents. You can find the following information on Thomas:
GPO Access Web Site (http://www.gpoaccess.gov)
This Web site was created by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Rules and includes Congressional Research Services (CRS) reports on the rules and procedures of the House of Representatives. The following topics are covered:
How Congress Works, U.S. Senate (http://rules.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=HowCongressWorks.RulesOfSenate)
This Web site was created by the U.S. Senate Rules Committee and includes the Rules and Procedures of the United States Senate. The following topics are covered:
2002 by Foundation Press
Berning, Robert C. and Edinger, Elizabeth A. Finding the Law, 3rd Edition. 2005 by Thomson West.
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation. US Congressional Documents and Debates 1874-1877. The Library of Congress. Available at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lawhome.html (last visit March 24, 2008)
Compiled by Christopher C. Dykes
Updated December 4, 2008